Hamas says Israeli air strikes in Gaza kill 6 of its men
Israeli air strikes killed six Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip today, the Islamist group said, in the deadliest attacks in a surge of violence exacerbated by the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli youths and a Palestinian teen.
Palestinian militants kept up their now-daily rocket launchings into Israel as pressure mounted from hardliners in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition for tougher action against Hamas, the dominant force in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military said its aircraft targeted "terror sites and concealed rocket launchers" in the enclave. It said about 10 rockets hit southern Israel today, wounding one soldier.
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have risen over the killing of three Jewish teenagers in the occupied West Bank, which Israel has blamed on Hamas, and of a 16-year-old Palestinian in East Jerusalem.
Israel yesterday announced it had arrested six Jewish suspects in what police believe was the revenge murder of Mohammed Abu Khudair, whose charred body was found in Jerusalem on Wednesday, a day after Naftali Fraenkel and Gil-Ad Shaer, both 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, were buried.
The three Jewish seminary students went missing while hitchhiking on June 12. Hamas has neither confirmed nor denied having any role in their disappearance.
Hamas's armed wing said five of its members were killed in air strikes in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, at the Egyptian border today. The group had said six men had died, but one was later found to be alive, seriously wounded, under rubble.
Israeli aircraft also attacked in northern Gaza, killing one Hamas fighter, the group said.
Netanyahu has pledged "to do whatever is necessary" to restore quiet to southern Israeli communities. But he also cautioned against any rush toward wider confrontation with Hamas, whose arsenal includes long-range rockets that can reach Israel's heartland and its business capital, Tel Aviv.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, citing a rift with Netanyahu on dealing with Hamas, said on Monday his nationalist party was dissolving its merger with the prime minister's conservative Likud but would stay in the governing coalition.
"A situation in which a terrorist group has hundreds of rockets which it can decide any moment to use is intolerable," Lieberman told a news conference. "There have been suggestions that we wait ... but I don't know what we're waiting for."